Surrendering to social media
When they hear that I don’t have a Facebook account or a Twitter page, some people look at me as if I’ve just announced that I want no part of some fundamental convention of society.
It’s the same reaction that I would get if I told them that I don’t own a pair of underpants or a toothbrush.
They look at me like I am some sort of commando-going, halitosis-suffering maniac who must be stopped for the sake of all mankind.
An exponentially growing number of people are defined by their social media presence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these are the people that are utterly gobsmacked by someone who works in the media and avoids online communities like the plague.
My resistance to participating in social media was not due to a lack of understanding. I’m not some confused senior citizen sitting alone in their unit, convinced that Twitter is a misspelling of the style of laughter induced by the Benny Hill show in the late 1970s.
As a producer and publicist, I work with these sites daily. In fact, a number of clients pay me to develop and manage their social media presence. I know a post from a tweet, a fan from a friend.
My resistance was due to a healthy fear that resulted from being all too familiar with the platform.
Think about all the information you volunteer about yourself on these sites. Not just your name, age and where you live, but the results of all those amusing little ‘which Twilight cast member are you most like?’ personality tests, details of your private life and all sorts of other titbits of information about who you are, what you do and where you spend your time.
All this information is held by a private company. It sends shivers down my spine. Knowledge is power and social media giants have too much of it about too many of us.
Tribute pages to deceased children are being defaced with pornography, employers use the revelations from social media pages to fire employees and cyber-bullying destroys lives across the world. Now more than ever it seems that there are good reasons to steer clear of spreading your business all over some profit-motivated social site.
Many of my friends admired my philosophy of social media non-participation, all the while posting on their Facebook walls and retweeting the ramblings of their favourite celebrities. I was like a Hare Krishna, practicing a religion that everyone is sure is full of nice ideas, but no one wants any part of due to the social outcast factor.
But for a number of reasons, the time has now come for me to stop swimming against the tide. Instead of raising my middle finger to Facebook and Twitter, I will raise my index finger to my mouse and click ‘sign up’.
So why now? Why suddenly decide to log on and get my tweets out with the best of them?
A couple of weeks ago a cousin of mine visited from the UK. Merry was made, photos were taken and a few days after she returned home she uploaded the images to her Facebook page.
“Seen the photos?” my girlfriend asks me one day.
No, I haven’t seen the photos, because I’m not on Facebook.
“I saw your photos,” said my friend, who met my cousin once a decade ago. They now chat regularly on Facebook, whereas I see her once in a blue moon.
Do you see the problem?
I enjoy interacting with people and have come to realise that the opportunities for connecting and communication that social media offers outweigh my issues, which, let’s face it, are bordering on paranoia anyway.
There are also professional reasons to participate. I’m trying to kick off a writing career and need to get my name floating around. I’ve just started my own blog and I want people to read it. Avoiding social media would put me a disadvantage regarding both these goals in a very meaningful way.
As with all tools, social media is not inherently good or bad. The choice to use it productively or destructively lies with us.
Digital cameras have been used to capture child pornography. Do we criticise the digital camera? Of course not, we buy them by the bucket load. We criticise the person who takes the photo and commits the crime, not the tool they use to do it.
The same should be true of social media when social degenerates post sicko material on social media tribute pages, or when the platform is used destructively in any other way.
Social media has the potential to unite people across borders, races and religions. It is a voice for the public in the new age and provides a low-cost, accessible platform for self expression and communication.
So perhaps I don’t need to hang my head quite so low for jumping on board the social media bandwagon and representing another notch on the bedpost for Facebook and Twitter.
Of course this story cannot end without the inevitable catchcry of the social media newbie: please add me, I want to get lots of friends.
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